Archive for 2014

Howard Dean and the DNC

Great interview in Salon with Howard Dean and how he remade the Democratic Party in 2008.

Tell me about the origins of the 50-state strategy. What was the goal?

My experience from having campaigned and from being governor is that there are Democrats everywhere, and if you want to nurture the party you have to nurture all of them. If you focus only on the states that are mostly Democratic, it’s demoralizing to the other states. So you never get any growth. So the origin of the 50-state strategy was to be prepared to go anywhere. The idea was, if you ever wanted a Mark Begich, you had to invest in Alaska before a Mark Begich came on the horizon so you could be ready. Mark Begich is the example that I use. Nobody expected Ted Stevens to be indicted, but when he was, we were ready. So the origin was to invest in the party throughout the country. There was also another aspect to it. My strategy to win the presidency was to find a way to win without Ohio and Florida. Obama came along and ran an incredible campaign, which was great and very metric-oriented to get votes out. But I was prepared to preside over a Democratic campaign in 2008 where we didn’t win Florida or Ohio, but we win in the West, we’d win in Colorado, possibly Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada. That would put us over the top, and would have as well for Kerry in 2004. So, that was another part of it.

Yeah, 2008 and 2004, but not 2010 or 2014. For as smart as Dean’s strategy is, the Democratic Party is forced to operate on two different arenas. The one used in Presidential years don’t work in the midterms. I’ve been working on a much longer piece to fully flesh this concept out which I hope to publish sometime.

NBA Commissioner supports sports betting

Adam Silver, Commissioner of the NBA, is the first sports executive to stop denying the reality of sports betting: that it currently operates in a gray zone, free of regulation, consumer protections, and financial transparency.

For more than two decades, the National Basketball Association has opposed the expansion of legal sports betting, as have the other major professional sports leagues in the United States. In 1992, the leagues supported the passage by Congress of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or Paspa, which generally prohibits states from authorizing sports betting.

But despite legal restrictions, sports betting is widespread. It is a thriving underground business that operates free from regulation or oversight. Because there are few legal options available, those who wish to bet resort to illicit bookmaking operations and shady offshore websites. There is no solid data on the volume of illegal sports betting activity in the United States, but some estimate that nearly $400 billion is illegally wagered on sports each year.

While gambling exposes citizens to a lot of challenges, these problems already exist in a sort of black market that only makes such problems more difficult to resolve. Good for Commissioner Silver for speaking the truth.

Elizabeth Warren rumored to move into new leadership role

Huge news for the soon to be Senate minority. Unlike the GOP, who’s messaging seems to be top notch (and often times better than the underlying policy), Warren is the rare Democrat that knows how to effectively frame messages. Should hopefully provide some much needed clarity and level the discourse of the parties.

Slice of Life #8: Super Majority SuperPAC

Idea: SuperPACs more or less seem to focus narrowly on pushing an agenda focused upon a particular interest or theme of policy goals. How about one that’s purpose is pushing for passage of legislation and executive action that polls show a supermajority (say at least 75%) of citizens support and built upon policy ideas supported by objective data and common sense.

For instance:

Only 35% of Nightly News Election Coverage Covered Real Election News

Speaking of an ignorant electorate,

A study conducted by Media Matters revealed that in the network news coverage of the midterm elections from September 1 – November 3, only 35 percent of segments mentioned key policy issues. Media Matters looked for discussions of issues including the economy, federal deficit, health care, climate change, foreign policy, immigration, same sex marriage, reproductive health, gun safety, campaign finance, voting rights, and equal pay for women…

Bloomberg finds American’s not quite as ignorant as Italians

It’s quiz time, people. Let’s start with an easy one: What percentage of working-age Americans are unemployed and looking for work?

If you guessed about 6 percent, give yourself a pat on the back. You have a pretty good understanding of the unemployment rate, one of the basic measures of economic well-being. If, on the other hand, you guessed 32 percent — which would rank America among the most desperate nations on Earth — then you guessed just like the average American!

That’s one of the findings of a survey released this week by U.K. pollster Ipsos Mori, which interviewed 11,527 people. In the 14-country Index of Ignorance (Ipsos Mori’s name, but we approve), Americans are second only to Italians in how little we understand some of the stats that track the most basic contours of our society.

How can democracy work when at least a third of the electorate is using completely different “facts” than what is reality? Whose fault is this?

✁ Eric Schmidt thinks we’re stupid

Last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook penned an open letter regarding customer’s data privacy and security.

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

Yesterday, Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, actually said this said this to CNN Money in response to this letter.

All the things [Cook] implied we’re doing, we don’t do.

Except that’s 100%, absolutely, without a question what Google does. And Schmidt admitted it in the next sentence.

Besides from the fact that we show ads in Gmail…and we use that information for nothing, all the other things that he implied we were doing, we don’t do.

From Gmail’s support page (emphasis added),

Google does not rent, sell or share information that personally identifies you for marketing purposes without your express permission. No email content or other personally identifiable information is provided to advertisers.

Schmidt is purposely obfuscating here. So Gmail collects information from your profile that “it does nothing with”. Yet it is in the business of selling advertisements that seem bizarrely tailored to you. While Google may not be selling the profile or email content, or web browsing habits, it certainly is collecting it in order to sell you more targeted ads. Imagine if the government said we’re tapping your phone calls, but we’re not listening to them.

And all of this assumes we should believe what Schmidt has to say. You know, the guy who says things like:

Eric Schmidt has such little respect for our intelligence, he can’t even tell us the truth about Google’s business model.

The problem with the media

After the declassification of the Benghazi report by the House Intelligence Committee late last month, the only politician to speak to the contents of the report turned out to be a minority member of the committee, Democratic Representative Mike Thompson. He was quoted as saying the report “confirms that no one was deliberately misled, no military assets were withheld and no stand-down order (to U.S. forces) was given.”

There was not a single mention of the decision to declassify the report from Republicans, despite thousands of accusations that the Obama Administration had acted purposely or with malicious intent to create more of a situation there and were acting in a coordinated effort to cover up their actions. Talking Points Memo, for instance, reports that Fox News has mentioned Benghazi over 1,100 times in the past year. Yet elected Republicans included no mention of it on their official website, were unavailable for quotes to the media, and made no statements from the committee dais or House floor.

But oddly, there has been little to no reporting on Thompson’s statement, presumably because media outlets weren’t able to provide a comment from the right to respond to the potentially biased statement made from the democratic member. And there lies the exact problem. When breaking news transpires, the media condones reporting that is the equivalent of “shoot first, ask questions later”, but when it comes to investigations, analysis of events, determining causes, and other time consuming tasks, the media is reluctant to report without providing flavors of that report from both sides of the story. Yet, logic would tend to suggest that as a story is unfolding you’d want balanced reporting, but after the fact, the media should play referee and make decisions about the credibility, accuracy, and reliability of conclusions. There’s no point to value to be gained in spin after the facts are laid out.

Yet that’s exactly what the media does. I’ve read numerous reports suggesting that Thompson’s quote should be taken lightly, considering we do not yet have the report, despite the obvious fact that republicans have refused to make a comment on Benghazi for the first time since the events transpired in 2012. But news outlets reported republican accusations of wrong-doing since then, permitting unfounded rhetoric with obvious electoral implications to flow freely on the airwaves. And House Republicans have determined to not release this report until after another series of investigations by other committees (many whom have already done initial investigations that have failed to reveal any startling conclusions that fit Republican talking points). Why? Because these investigations will conveniently continue until after the November election so that the issue can still be used to sway some voters and then released at a time when it will have zero impact on elections by the time 2016 rolls around (assuming they don’t now try to spin this as a State Department Hillary Clinton conspiracy).

The point is that in today’s environment, the media treats most viewpoints equally, despite the fact that doing so creates a false equivalence and gives respect, legitimacy, and consideration to unreasonable points of view. Instead of looking to measurable or demonstrable metrics to craft a news story, the media instead values opinions and rhetoric that can be abused in exactly the same way as it has been in the Benghazi story. It also has the potential for even more extreme consequences. While this style may build a reliable audience that tunes in regularly, it likely shrinks the total market as more Americans become cynical of news reports and choose to become less engaged in current events.

It seems the major difficulty with how the media presents news today has to do with the types of journalists that exist in the world. Journalists are typically rewarded (in terms of reputation, not necessarily tangible accolades) for two (often times opposing) achievements. The first type of reporting focuses on being the quickest and fastest to break news, which is messy, noisy, and often inaccurate. In order to be first, you sometimes report incomplete or misleading news, but being the first to break a huge story has a way of forgiving being wrong on another.

The second type of journalist focuses primarily on quality of reporting, taking a bit more time to ensure that facts are accurate, editorial content is minimal, and the scoop is trustworthy. Surely, this is more along the lines of what journalists should strive to be, but there seems to be a huge hole in between these two types that is, for the most part, not being filled and creating a less informed electorate.

Ironically, this journalism hole seems to be filled only by comedians that feel very uncomfortable referring to themselves as journalists at all. The likes of John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, and John Stewart produce shows that take viewers on a narrative journey, explaining the various moving pieces of a story rather than focusing solely on breaking news and punditry after the story breaks. Last Week Tonight, the Colbert Report, and the Daily Show provide background on a given story, providing context for those vast majority who likely missed one or two chapters. And by doing so allow for obvious conclusions to be parsed without taking major partisan editorial views. This is because these comedians get that drawing a conclusion does not have to be partisan because certain conclusions are beyond debate. Taking the example above, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to conclude that perhaps Representative Thompson has a point when eight Congressional Committee findings before the latest have failed to find wrong-doing.

But until the media drastically changes their model, choosing instead to focus on a narrative based and analytical approach to the news, we will continue lacking an essential piece to our democracy. That’s both sad and a bit scary.

Hobby Lobby, 1st Amendment hypocrite

By now, the Monday morning quarterbacking in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby has died down and we are left, instead with more substantive analyses of the case. There are quite a few good ones.

But I saw this yesterday and thought, is this for real? Well turns out, Allen won her appeal after being denied unemployment benefits, so it’s not simply a case of a random person in the news trying making unsubstantiated claims just to have their 15 minutes (as is all too often permitted in the news these days). A court of law determined that, in fact, Hobby Lobby wrongfully denied benefits to her. Shameful considering their supposed religious beliefs.

When a very pregnant Felicia Allen applied for medical leave from her job at Hobby Lobby three years ago, one might think that the company best known for denying its employees insurance coverage of certain contraceptives—on the false grounds that they cause abortions—would show equal concern for helping one of its employees when she learned she was pregnant.

Instead, Allen says the self-professed evangelical Christian arts-and-crafts chain fired her and then tried to prevent her from accessing unemployment benefits.

It gets better though (if by better I mean worse). When Allen tried to sue for wrongful termination based upon her being let go because she is pregnant, she couldn’t.

Though the multibillion-dollar, nearly 600-store chain took its legal claim against the federal government all the way to the Supreme Court when it didn’t want to honor the health insurance requirements of the Affordable Care Act, the company forbids its employees from seeking justice in the court of law.

Allen had signed a binding arbitration agreement upon taking the job, though she says she doesn’t remember doing so. The agreement, which all Hobby Lobby employees are required to sign, forces employees to resolve legal disputes outside of court through a process known as arbitration.

It’s insane that such contract clauses are even legal in this country. Yet it’s collective bargaining and unions that are destroying this country…

This story is exactly why claims of religious freedom in Burwell are completely ridiculous. There’s no requirement that 1st Amendment religious beliefs be consistent, truthful, or even logical for the Supreme Court to offer 1st Amendment protections. Hobby Lobby here demonstrates that axiom perfectly by objecting to paying for contraception (using a pre textual explanation of being religiously pro-life), while also objecting to paying for leave due to pregnancy (using the explanation of something, something, hey look, a bird!) or showing a complete lack of regard for the future of an unborn child being born into a family with an unemployed mother (because, they can’t be sued for denying others the same rights they enjoy). Disgraceful.

Personal memory is untrustworthy—we do not know the color of the ink with which it was written—and thus one should view the depiction of the following encounters as inexact and partly fictitious, though no more so than any other type of biographical writing.

Shlomo Sand